AirVenture Begins with Proactive Effort to Stop Privatized ATC

By Scott Spangler on July 24th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

AV1-202Almost everywhere you turn among the hundreds of acres of airplanes and lovers of aviation are subtle (and no so subtle) signs that make it clear that the best way to improve the US Air Traffic Control (ATC) system is to “Modernize, Not Privatize.” It’s a message you can’t miss when walking through AirVenture’s main gate. And if you miss the big sign on the portable Jumbotron, it is on every bin that offers a free copy of EAA Sport Aviation and the show’s daily newspaper, AirVenture Today.

If people were not clear on the details, AirVenture Today included a four-page pullout in its Sunday edition that explained it all, And if you didn’t get the Sunday paper, there were stacks of them at every exhibit space manned by the general aviation organizations behind the effort, EAA, AOPA, NBAA, GAMA, HAI, and NATA.

AV1-186But the organizations’ effort is even more proactive. There is a squad of 25 sturdy young uniformed adults, each armed with an iPad. With the expanded Wi-Fi network, each iPad has a real-time connection to, that enables people to immediately transmit their displeasure over the possibility of a privatized ATC system by email, Tweet, and Facebook posting. And if they are not sure of all the myths and misinformation spread about the proposal, the site clears that up as well, starting with a powerfully concise video with Sully Sullenberger.

AV1-178The goal of the iPad warriors is to get 10,000 people to send their comments to their elected representatives by the end of AirVenture. The crowd of roughly 350 people who filled the Theater in the Woods Town Hall meeting about ATC Privatization – at 1130 on Monday – seriously spanked my skepticism. Usually, at this time of day, the theater is the refuge of the lame and sunstroked, not unhappy aviators looking for ways to save the activity that gives their lives purpose and meaning.

As the host, EAA’s Jack Pelton spoke first, followed by AOPA’s Mark Baker, NBAA’s Ed Bolen, and GAMA’s Pete Bunce. In turn, each of them evenly explained the consequences of a privatized air traffic control system on the the community of general aviators their organizations represented. What united them was the universal threat embodied in the House 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, aka HR 2997, which includes the provision that would separate ATC organization from the FAA.

Each speaker made it clear that the our elected officials will decide the future of general aviation in the next few months as this legislative bolus works its way through Congress. Its defeat is general aviation’s only hope, and we should achieve that goal if we consistently communicate with elected official with a unified voice. And you don’t have to be at AirVenture to pound out an iPad missive to your elected official. You can add your voice to the 10,000 sought after in Oshkosh at or through any other form of communication. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Quiet Skies: A General Aviation Transect of Canada

By Scott Spangler on July 20th, 2017 | Comments Off on Quiet Skies: A General Aviation Transect of Canada

JW-2On the eve of the Congressional vote to privatize the US air traffic control system, I made an informal, unscientific general aviation study of a nation—Canada—that privatized its system in 1996, when Transport Canada sold its air traffic control and navigation services to a private, nonprofit company, NavCanada. Without getting into the vociferous politics involved, the common denominator for a privatized service formerly provided by the government is user fees.

To gauge the consequences to general aviation, during a 3,057-mile transit of the TransCanada Highway, which began on Canada Day (July 1) at the Abbotsford, BC, border, and concluded at the Ogdensburg, NY, border on July 11, I would keep a sharp-eye pealed for GA airplanes flying within my constantly moving visual hemisphere. And I would explore GA airports that were not too far off the highway and talk to any aviator I happened to meet at them.

JW-5I started my survey without expectations. By landmass, Canada is the world’s second largest nation. NavCanada’s website says it manages 12 million aircraft operations annually for 40,000 customers in the 18 million square kilometers (6,949,838.85 square miles) that stretches north from the US-Canadian border to the North Pole and from Pacific West Coast to the North Atlantic, the world’s busiest oceanic airspace, which averages 1,200 flights a day to Europe.

On my Canadian transect, I saw nine aircraft. Four of them were turboprop ag aircraft at work in the prairie provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. On Canada Day, walking back from dinner at Hope, British Columbia, I saw a single-engine prop plane with a long, thin high wing, whose make and model I could not identify. The pilot I saw enjoying a beautiful evening over Blind River, Ontario, was flying a Cessna 172. At the Dryden Regional Airport, an A-Star 350 hovered and landed at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources base, and on the other side of the airport, a Metroliner arrived to exchange its passengers. And on my survey’s last day, what looked like a Cessna Mustang business jet was on its final approach to Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

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Have ALPA’s Efforts Actually Threatened Advances in Aviation Safety

By Robert Mark on July 15th, 2017 | Comments Off on Have ALPA’s Efforts Actually Threatened Advances in Aviation Safety

It all began last month with the White House’s infrastructure plan that included severing the decades old ties between the FAA and its air traffic control system. President Trump said he supported the split, an effort that would be financed by user fees. Obviously no one, except the airlines pretty much support the effort. Then came the FAA Reauthorization bill to keep the FAA alive past September 30. The House of course thinks their version, including a privatized ATC system, is the best answer. The Senate did not agree.

Senator John Thune (R-SD)

From the Senate came John Thune’s suggestion to consider hiring pilots based on the quality of their flight experience, not simply the quantity of their logged hours, as currently demanded by the 1,500-hour rule. The result of the South Dakota Senator’s plan was a firestorm calling for everything just short of burning his likeness in effigy. Of course none of the hysterics had any resemblance with the facts. Take a look and you’ll see what the Senator actually proposed.

It amazes me that Republican, Democrat or Independent, could possibly lose by sitting down and talking about just the possibility of a more effective method of hiring the best pilots to keep the flying public safe, especially since we’ve all been living with a Congressionally mandated hiring rule that’s drastically altered the regional airline industry. How do we reconcile the fact that both sides believe they have the best interests of aviation safety on their side of the argument as ALPA explained in a recent story.

Finally there’s my friend, veteran journalist Kathryn Creedy, a seasoned journalist from South Florida, with a perspective she synthesized from months of Washington blabber about pilot hiring and aviation safety. She mentioned this story to me over lunch a few weeks ago in St. Maarten, before we took part in a journalist forum at the Caribbean Aviation Conference and I must admit, as an old-ALPA member myself I was intrigued by what she had to say.

Enough from me. Read the story we called, “Do ALPA’s Efforts Threaten Advances in Aviation Safety?” and tell us both what you think.

Rob Mark, Publisher


“I who was raised a staunch union supporter and former union member am ashamed of the Air Line Pilots Association. I believe it has traded its credibility to achieve a financial goal, something it accuses its opponents of doing,” Kathryn Creedy

A glimmer of progress toward advancing both airline safety and addressing the abandonment of nearly 50 communities appeared recently with a bi-partisan effort to expand training options for prospective airline pilots as proposed in both the House and the Senate and was, in fact, passed by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation.

“The amendment would allow prospective pilots to receive credit toward flight-hour requirements if taking structured and disciplined training courses and if completion of those training courses will enhance safety more than unstructured accumulation of flight hours,” Senator John Thune (R-SD) said. Read the rest of this entry »

Museum of Flight and Aviation’s Next Gen

By Scott Spangler on July 3rd, 2017 | Comments Off on Museum of Flight and Aviation’s Next Gen

IMG_5693Carrying no expectations, I walked through the main door of Seattle’s Museum of Flight when it opened last Friday and was immediately overwhelmed by the airy, light filled Great Gallery. With aircraft of all types from all eras, it provides a comprehensive history of aviation from the Wrights to the day before yesterday in a single glance. Immediately I felt the need to sit down.

What was most impressive about the array of aircraft before me was their arrangement. Above me was a modern cruise missile, and above that was its predecessor, the ramjet-powered German V-1 Buzz Bomb. And to the right side of my field of view was the ramjet-powered Lockheed D-21B drone affixed to the back of its mother ship, the Lockheed M-21 Blackbird. In the Aviation Pavilion, when you come down the steps from the Concorde’s forward door you see the Boeing’s airline hopes, the 247D. Immediately behind it is the airplane that realized those commercial transport hopes, the Douglas DC-2.

IMG_5794 But these are things that only a truly sick aviation geek would see and appreciate. More important than one of the best and most diverse collections I’ve seen at any museum was the quality and quantity of people doing what I was going before lunch on a beautiful, sunny Seattle Friday—looking at airplanes and learning about the people who flew them.

The number of elementary school age kids there with their parents surprised me. There were hundreds of them, and middle and high schoolers as well, with a smattering of college kids, usually a flight of two, one male, one female, both armed with phones locked and loaded.

IMG_5764Divide the hundreds of kids by 10 and you have the number of of nattily attired docents who could have been their grandparents, and all of them had eager eyes that said, “ASK ME A QUESTION!’’” And they answers they shared were really adventure yarns told with the enthusiasm unmatched by any campfire. Others were bedtime stories swaddled in warm affection. Regardless, those of us within earshot were rapt.

What made my visit—and has tempered my less than rosy hope’s for aviation’s future—was the unseen but overheard comment of one youngster to his or her mom. Facing the life-size stature of a crewman dressed for flight and standing before a B-17, the kid said, “See mommy, this is how men dressed for war, just like in Wonder Woman.”

IMG_5779 Throughout the museum were similar statues, each of them dressed appropriately for the aircraft they stood beside. A mechanic on a work stand was turning a wrench on a B-29’s R3350, and a captain and flight attendant were striding purposefully toward the stars leading up (way up) to the prototype Boeing 747 (one of many aircraft, including a retired Air Force One, that visitors could walk though). And then there was this guy, standing by the closed air stair door at the tail end a Boeing 727. That would be D.B. Cooper.

IMG_5798Still overwhelmed and drowning in sights, sounds, and information, I struggle to summarize my visit that has been like no other. Maybe personality is the best word. All museums have a personality. Some are somber and serious. Others are vainglorious. And a few are about as exciting as a high school history lecture by a teacher counting the days until retirement. But the Museum of Flight is the cool teacher, engaged, and excited about sharing kernels of previously unknown knowledge that brings life to aircraft—and the people who designed, built, flew, and maintained them. If you are ever within several hundred miles of this magical place, visit, bring the family, and dedicate the whole day. You’ll need it. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Artificial Intelligence: The Perfect Pilot?

By Scott Spangler on June 19th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Otto the autopilot by FabuioOn the eve of the Paris Air Show, Boeing announced its next step in developing an autonomous airliner. With artificial intelligence (AI) making the decisions of a perfect pilot, said a number of different sources who covered the Boeing media session, the initial experiments will fly simulators. Because Boeing will conduct further experiments in a real, live, flying airliner next year, my guess is that the sim flights will be final confirmation of existing AI technology.

Reading the various reports of Boeing’s announcement, the Seattle Times’ report was the most thought provoking. Acknowledging that the technology for block-to-block flights already exists, the aerospace reporter, Dominic Gates, said the AI challenge was considerable: “Think about a machine that could do what US Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger did in New York City in 2009.” And he posed other challenges the AI perfect pilot might have to address, such as diverting a flight in response to a passenger facing a medical emergency.

There’s no denying the challenges the AI programmers face, but if they orphan the emotional cousins of ego and hubris, they will achieve their goal and aviation AI has a better than even chance of success in achieving a perfect pilot safety record. (The aviation pros I feel for will be the technicians who maintain these systems, because the onus of safety will be largely on their shoulders.)

Image result for sully sullenbergerI’ve never had the honor of meeting Capt. Sullenberger, but judging him by his decisions that day, he is an uncommon aviator who ruthlessly deals with conditions and situations as they are, not as he might hope them to be. Drawing on his knowledge of aircraft performance, his altitude and position, and an uncountable number of other factors, he turned final approach to the best option available to him. There’s no reason to believe that AI’s decision making in similar circumstances wouldn’t be as logically pragmatic.

The AI outcome for a medical emergency could be even better. After the flight attendant conveyed the particulars of the passenger’s medical emergency to AI cockpit, the perfect pilot, which always knows exactly were it is, would quickly search some database for the nearest airport served by the hospital best suited to deal with it and then notify everyone involved of what was needed when and where.

When this system is certificated, I would happily fly with an AI perfect pilot, but only if the airlines change course on their coach class accommodations. After reading Paying the Price for 8 Days of Flying in America, I have no doubt that if this ever happens, it will be ages after AI’s perfect pilot took its place at the pointy end of the winged cattle car. – Scott Spangler, Editor.

Father’s Day 2017

By Robert Mark on June 17th, 2017 | Comments Off on Father’s Day 2017

       Micah (R) with his pop

Father’s Day is special to me for a couple of reasons.

My own dad is gone, but of course I’m a father myself so it seems like the idea’s certainly living on in our family.

But my talented buddy Micah – you might know as our Maine Man from the Airplane Geeks – sent this to me a few weeks back and asked if I’d like to give it a listen. I did and realized it’s absolutely worth sharing with other folks whose own pops, dads, or fathers have passed on, because Micah’s sense of story telling is worth spending a few minutes of your Father’s Day on.

Here’s Micah’s piece called My Six-Foot Father

Happy Fathers Day everyone.

Rob Mark

Erudite Aviators Provide Solace & Solutions

By Scott Spangler on June 5th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Image result for nothing by chanceLooking at the challenges aviators face foretells of a seemingly insurmountable struggle to sustain our beloved avocation that is, for a lucky few, also an occupation. What makes this situation worse is that most of these challenges pit aviator against aviator.

The summit of challenge mountain is the proposed privatization of ATC. Supported by airline aviators, the user fees that would support it would, it is safe to assume, eliminate the ticket taxes the airlines pay on each passengers base ticket, which does not include the plethora of additional fees. In its place, the airlines would add the ATC user fees to their ticket prices. Business and general aviators would have to make life-changing financial choices if they want—or need—to continue flying.

Other challenges are more insidious because they are unintended consequences of aviation’s technological solutions in its ceaseless quest to improve safety. Take, for example, FAA Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) 17007, Manual Flight Operations Proficiency. It urges aviators to maintain and improve “the knowledge and skills” they first mastered as students, manipulating the stick and rudder for a safe flight.

Image result for stick and rudderThe challenge here is not mastering the necessary knowledge and skills. It is finding the appropriate balance between the contribution technology makes to safety and the aviators ability to realize when he or she needs to take over, and to have the current stick-and-rudder muscle memory essential for maintaining that safety.

When considering the logical and disparate possible outcomes becomes morbidly oppressive, I seek solace from the erudite aviators who live on my bookshelves. From them I intuit solutions to today’s challenges, should aviators today choose to make the changes necessary to achieve them.

To many, Nothing By Chance, Richard Bach’s 1969 book is a nostalgic tale of a group of aviators who spend the summer living the barnstormer’s life. But it is so much more, if one reads carefully. It shows how a group of aviators, with different needs, achieved a shared goal financed by an unpredictable number of $5 flights. Naturally, these humans had their disagreements, but in the end they worked them out to the benefit of all. A similar outcome is possible if the spectrum of aviators unite in opposition to a privatized ATC system funded by user fees and agree on possible solutions that benefit all of aviation, not just one of its communities.

Image result for artful flyingAny aviator who manipulates an airplane’s controls should sit down with Wolfgang Langewiesche at least once a year, just to remind themselves that the fundamentals of flight he analyzed in Stick and Rudder are universal to all fixed-wing aircraft regardless of size. Then sit down with Michael Maya Charles who melds hands-on manipulation with the human metaphysical factors that play a critical role in their acquisition, sustainability, and employment.

Beyond solace, spending time with these erudite aviators may also inspire solutions to the challenges that the industry—and its individual participants—today face. But they will not be explicitly clear on the page, they will grow in the reader’s mind, especially one prepared for the implantation of new ideas by a sufficient supply of imagination unbounded from what was and what is, freed to consider what could be. – Scott Spangler, Editor

Why America Reallocates Public-Use Airports

By Scott Spangler on May 23rd, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Hangar-4Public use airports are an essential (and underappreciated) component of America’s infrastructure. The current total, provided by the the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, counts 5,145 public use aerodromes. What’s really interesting about this timeline is the increase between 1980 and 1985, from 4,814 to 5,858 public use airports. The total dropped to 5,589 in 1990, the next stop on the timeline before the annual counts reveal a trend of small and steady decline.

The sudden increase in airports between 1980 and 1985 surprised me because it came after general aviation’s leap off the economic cliff in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Search as I might, I could not find a concise summation of why this period experienced a boom not unlike the increasing number of babies born after World War II. Until I find something more authoritative, I’m settling for the logical conclusion that airports aren’t born and don’t die overnight, so the boom was the result of poor timing and the interval of new airport gestation.

My research did reveal interesting examples of why airports die, and why new ones are born in this era of economic stasis for our infrastructure, either maintaining what exists or adding to it.

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Privatized ATC May Solve Pilot Shortage

By Scott Spangler on May 8th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

pp_dc_body1This headline isn’t as strange as it sounds when you consider that the airlines are the leading promoters and supporters of privatizing air traffic control, and that the managers have often been at odds with the laborers (like pilots). Mix this with the travails of another “government corporation,” the U.S. Postal Service, and the growing capabilities of the Next Generation Air Transportation Systems digital data communications systems, and you have the makings for some dystopian devil’s advocacy.

Behind all of this is the acceptance that business leaders, regardless of the industry involved, are guided by one thing—the bottom line. Depending on their morals, they’ll do anything to increase that number. And one way to increase that number is to reduce or eliminate things that subtract from it. Take, for example, the “ticket tax” they pay, which supports the air traffic control system.

That tax is based on the base fare passengers pay for that ticket. It does not take into account all of the fees passengers pay for things that used to be wrapped up in the ticket price, things like baggage. Those fees go directly to the airlines’ bottom line. Privatizing ATC is the next step in this process. It will replace the ticket tax with ATC user fees, and we all know who pays an airline’s fees, don’t we?

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When Pilots Back Themselves Into a Corner

By Robert Mark on May 6th, 2017 | Comments Off on When Pilots Back Themselves Into a Corner

When Pilots Back Themselves into a Corner

When I was still writing for AOPA Pilot, Turbine Edition Editor Tom Horne always surprised me with his relentless interest in some of the funny and strange things I’ve experienced in my career as a professional pilot. “Did I ever tell you about the time my co-pilot and I had to push our Citation out of the corner we’d wedged ourselves into?” I once asked. So of course I just had to write it up. This story, Taxi Troubles, originally ran in the Turbine section of the February 2017 AOPA Pilot.

A Long, Long Time Ago

Flying on-demand Part 135 airplanes can be a tough life, with pilots often spending their day waiting for that firefighter-like call to swing into action—calls that always seem to happen near the end of the day. We fly in all kinds of weather, often into unfamiliar airports at a passenger’s whim, but this Uber-like service is why we exist.

I’d just walked in my back door under a beautiful starry sky, so all seemed right with the world when the pager went off around 11 p.m. The scheduler said Tommy and I were headed out in the company’s new Citation S/II—new to this company, at least. The trip would be easy: Depart the Waukegan, Illinois, airport; drop one passenger at an airport in central Michigan; and come home. A quick weather check said it would be as beautiful a VFR night in Michigan as it was in Chicago.

Since the trip over was my leg and I’d already checked weather, the only thing left was a look at our airport destination, where our passenger said his wife would be waiting in her car on the ramp. It was a single-runway, non-towered field, so it should be easy in and easy out. Climbing away from Chicagoland, we could already see the lights lining Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. In the descent, Tommy tried calling unicom, but since it was nearly 1 a.m., no one answered. The winds were calm, so I chose to land straight in on the nearly 5,000-foot Runway 9.

Tommy clicked the microphone a few times to make sure the runway lights stayed on, which we needed since there weren’t any other lights even remotely close to the airport. The touchdown was hard, characteristic for me in this airplane. The S/II had a different wing that the other Citation IIs we usually flew, and I just never seemed to get the hang of the darned thing. Next time, I guess, I thought as I turned south off the active runway.

After much grunting and shoving and heave-hoing, though, the darned thing started to move…slowly.

After much grunting and shoving and heave-hoing, though, the darned thing started to move…slowly.I left all the landing and taxi lights on and slowly came to a stop on the taxiway. This place was dark—really dark. No taxiway lights, just green reflectors sticking up on plastic poles to outline the way. “We’re taking it easy,” I said, with Tommy quickly nodding.

“There,” he said. “Aren’t those headlights?” Almost in response, the headlights flashed. I flashed the taxi lights in response, feeling confident now on where we were headed. There wasn’t much room to turn the aircraft, but I managed to get it pointed outward from the ramp before I shut down. Our passenger was eager to be gone and we were soon watching his car’s taillights disappearing down a dark road. I used our big Maglite for the walk-around as Tommy climbed into the left seat for the trip home.

With both engines spinning, Tommy taxied out. We’d decided to depart west, which meant simply reversing our taxi back in—which is, of course, what we thought we were doing. But with nothing except reflective tape on some sticks, the going was slow. I looked down at the approach plate to be sure I had the correct frequency dialed in to call the center after takeoff. When I looked up, I almost felt a bit of vertigo, since the path ahead looked different from what I was expecting. It looked like buildings appearing in the lights.

“What the heck is that?” I asked Tommy.

“We’re OK,” he said. “I remember seeing that coming in.” I think the quizzical look was still plastered on my face as the airplane stopped. “Uh, oh,” he said. Definitely buildings. We’d made a wrong turn somewhere and were now pointing down a narrow taxiway with T-hangars on our right. As we both looked at the buildings around us, Tommy did the smart thing by setting the brakes and shutting down. Climbing out with the Maglite again, we looked ahead and saw the dead end. The taxiway was maybe half again as wide as the Citation’s wide gear stance.

There was no clear way to turn the airplane around—at least, no way we could see where we wouldn’t fall off the edge of the taxiway. So much for getting into bed early, I thought. Of course, we also had no idea how we’d even call anyone for help at 1 a.m. We looked at each other as we circled the airplane again, flashing the Maglite in all directions—as if, by chance, it might point us toward the way out. No such luck. “Well,” Tommy said, “We could try a three-point turn.” I looked at him a bit quizzically.

“We start up, then I crank in a hard left turn with you outside. All you do is stop me before I go off the pavement. Then just before I shut down, I’ll cock the nosegear full right.”

“And then we do what, exactly?” I asked.

“We push it back until we’re almost off the pavement going backwards.” It was about 1:30 a.m. in Michigan, but this kind of made sense to me. A few minutes later, we tried the turn, me acting as ramp agent. When Tommy shut down and exited the airplane, we walked over to the back end to see how far we could push the jet and stay on the pavement. We figured about 10 feet, so I marked a spot by tossing my hat down under the belly, so we could both see it while we were pushing.

Even light on fuel and with no people aboard, pushing a Citation is nothing like shoving around a 172. After much grunting and shoving and heave-hoing, though, the darned thing started to move…slowly. We saw our mark and stopped pushing the jet. It stopped almost immediately. Tommy hoped back in, fired up the right engine, and repeated the three-point turn procedure. We almost made it out on the first try, but we had to shut down and push one more time.

Finally, as we taxied out, it became clear how we missed the turn. But I was more amazed at how we’d gotten out of this mess. For months after that, when Tommy and I would see each other in the crew room, one of us would ask, “Been to Michigan lately?” and laugh.